One man peels the skin off the apple — that’s all he eats for lunch each day — with a surgeon’s precision. The other rises at dawn for a work-out regimen fit for a Marine.
Mike Madigan and Rahm Emanuel are both about as disciplined as a human being can be and bring that same measured approach to their politics. The similarity has helped the two powerful Democrats who barely knew each other before Emanuel’s 2011 election build a surprisingly strong bond.
Now, Emanuel is at Madigan’s mercy as the speaker plays a high-stakes game of political brinksmanship with rookie Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, the mayor’s longtime friend, over Rauner’s unyielding demand for pro-business, anti-union reforms.
Emanuel can’t afford to take sides. He needs the support of both key players in the Springfield power struggle if he hopes to get help for his needy city.
Hanging in the balance are the governor’s doomsday budget cuts and the fixes Emanuel desperately needs to solve the $30 billion pension crisis that has dropped Chicago’s bond rating to junk status and threatens to prevent the on-time opening of Chicago Public Schools this fall.
If Madigan follows through on his threat to nix Rauner’s reforms and passes a budget with a $3 billion hole in an attempt to force Rauner to sign off on a tax hike, Emanuel and Chicago could be the big losers.
The longer the legislative session drags on into overtime, the longer Chicago will be forced to wear the scarlet-letter J — as in junk — that’s expected to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in penalties and higher interest rates.
An overtime session would also mean it’ll take a super-majority to pass the city’s ambitious wish list.
“It would be costly, not just to the city [but] to the state,” Emanuel told reporters after Tuesday’s annual Police Recognition Ceremony.
“People in business, if they’re gonna make an investment, look for certainty. We’ve been successful in Chicago recruiting companies and helping create jobs. It doesn’t mean that they like the policies. But they do like the certainty that comes with the actions. It’s imperative that Springfield eventually act and pass a budget that invests in the key areas of job creation, from public transportation to education to making sure we have the investments we need to create the jobs.”
Emanuel survived Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff by convincing voters he was better prepared than challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to steer Chicago away from the financial cliff.
But that can’t happen without help from Springfield.
The mayor wants a publicly owned Chicago casino with all of the revenue used to shore up police and fire pensions. He wants to resurrect his 2011 proposal to broaden the sales tax to an array of services not now covered.
And he needs the Legislature to lift the hammer hanging over Chicago taxpayers — a state-mandated, $550 million payment due in December to shore up police and fire pensions — to give taxpayers more time to “ramp up” to that balloon payment.
Emanuel needs similar relief for the teachers pension fund by ending what he calls the “dual taxation” that forces Chicagoans to pay twice, for the retirement of city teachers and for teachers outside Chicago.
Yet another bill has surfaced in Springfield that would extend for two more years the 56 percent increase in Chicago’s telephone tax used to stave off a pre-election property tax hike to cover the city’s increased contribution to the Municipal Employees and Laborers pension funds.
On Tuesday, the mayor refused to say whether he supports the hardball tactics Madigan is using in the standoff with Rauner.
But he said, “I have a good working relationship with the speaker. We have worked well together, the speaker and the Senate president, advancing Chicago’s interests of making sure we continue to have investments in our education, public transportation and public safety.”
He added, “I have not seen the details of that [Democratic] budget. I do know that the governor and the legislative body have to pass a budget that reflects the priorities, not just for the state, but the priorities for the city of Chicago. And they cannot balance their budget on the backs of the people of the city of Chicago.”
In a rare address to the City Council earlier this month, Rauner flatly declared, “For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs.”
Now, that tensions are rising and the spring session appears headed for overtime, Emanuel was asked whether he’s concerned that Chicago’s desperate need for new revenue may get lost in the war of wills between Rauner and Madigan.
“Prior to any kind of issue between the governor or the legislative body, I would always worry about Chicago. But I do believe we’re well positioned to advance our interests and get what we need done,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said last week he wanted to wait and see how the frenzied final days of the spring session play out before asking the new City Council to begin the search for new revenue to solve the pension crisis.
But the mayor’s City Council floor leader said Tuesday the search for new revenue is already well underway at City Hall and Emanuel won’t wait for the General Assembly to go first.
“We are collecting suggestions to see what is least objectionable,” said Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th).
“We know it takes more revenue. We know we have to find economies. We’re going to be making plans and doing things to help our situation. And maybe then, they’ll say, `Chicago is doing what it can. We have to do that, too.’ ”
As for the Springfield standoff, O’Connor said, “Let’s hope that what comes out of the overtime is a better result than what happened” to the Blackhawks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.